When musicals come back to Broadway, typically the material elements of the show survive intact. Revivals of shows like Gypsy and The King and I have both received multiple revivals that featured new physical productions, new star performances, and sometimes slightly re-focused direction, but their scripts and scores were left more or less as they premiered originally.
But, especially in the last 20 years or so, it has become normal for musicals to come back in new productions that take a dramatic new look at the material. These so-called “revisals” (rather than simple revivals) have featured updated scripts and scores to fit modern production trends or to insert completely new ideas and re-writes—to varying degrees of success.
We’re taking a look at 5 musicals that got a major makeovers when they came back to Broadway.
Revivals: 1994, 2007
Grease’s first transformation actually happened before it ever opened on Broadway. It’s original production in a Chicago nightclub in 1971 was notoriously raunchy and featured far more explicit language before it was cleaned up a bit for its Broadway transfer the following year. After eight years and more than 3,000 performances, Grease was the definition of a huge Broadway hit, so a movie adaptation became almost unavoidable. John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in the 1978 movie adaptation, still one of the most perennial and successful movie-musicals ever made.
The show was first revived on Broadway in 1994 in a completely new production directed and choreographed by Jeff Calhoun. This production removed the original “Alma Mater” in favor of a new “Alma Mater” and an a cappella choral arrangement of “We Go Together.” The ’50s pop hit “Since I Don’t Have You” was inserted into the score for Sandy to sing at the end of the first act, and all of the original songs received substantially new arrangements, perhaps most notably “Beauty School Dropout,” which became a gospel tour de force for Billy Porter’s Teen Idol.
But Grease returned to Broadway in an even more thoroughly revised version in 2007, following TV’s Grease: You’re the One That I Want, a competition reality show that cast Laura Osnes and Max Crumm in the two leading roles. Director and choreographer Kathleen Marshall incorporated elements from the 1978 film version for the first time on a Broadway stage, including opening the show with “Grease (Is the Word)” and inserting “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” This production also replaced “Alone at the Drive-In Movie” with the film’s “Sandy,” and “All Choked Up” with the film’s “You’re the One That I Want.”
2. Annie Get Your Gun
Revivals: 1966, 1999
With a score by Irving Berlin and a book by Dorothy and Herbert Fields, Annie Get Your Gun was originally written for Ethel Merman as Annie Oakley—and it was a big hit in 1946. The score introduced such standards as “Doin’ What Comes Natur’lly,” “You Can’t Get a Man with a Gun,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “They Say It’s Wonderful,” “My Defenses Are Down,” “I Got Lost In His Arms,” “I Got the Sun in the Morning,” and “Anything You Can Do.” It ran for 1,147 performances on Broadway and became a classic of the genre.
But one of ithe musical’s now well-known songs—“An Old Fashioned Wedding”—wasn’t actually in the original production. Merman appeared in another Irving Berlin musical, Call Me Madam, in 1950, which featured a song called “You’re Just In Love.” The song paired a plaintive love ballad, sung by Russell Nype, with a brassier response by Merman, after which they sing both melodies simultaneously in counterpoint. The song was such a smash that when Annie Get Your Gun was revived on Broadway in 1966 with Merman reprising her role, Berlin wrote “An Old Fashioned Wedding” in the exact same style as “You’re Just In Love” and added it to the score.
A 1999 Broadway revival starring Bernadette Peters saw more dramatic changes, with Peter Stone writing a new book that moved “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to the top of the show, making the entire evening a show-within-a-show. Stone also removed insensitive references to Native Americans, which necessitated the complete removal of the songs “Colonel Buffalo Bill” and “I’m an Indian Too.”
3. Show Boat
Revival: 1932, 1946, 1983, 1994
When it debuted in 1927, Show Boat was immediately regarded as a landmark musical that pushed the boundaries of the genre in ways its contemporaries weren’t even nearing, and it’s still considered a classic today. But groundbreaking as it was in 1927, it premiered in a form that would not work for today. For starters, it was extremely long and contained a fair amount of material that would seem extraneous by today’s standards. In 1927, variety entertainments like vaudeville were still extremely influential on musical theatre, so the original production featured odd things like its leading lady Norma Terris performing the celebrity impressions she was famous for.
The show also dealt head-on with subjects—like race—that were controversial then and continue to be so today. The way we talk those topics has developed so extensively since 1927 that some of how the show premiered would be offensive to modern audiences, something that would be horrifying to the work’s authors—Oscar Hammerstein II and Jerome Kern—who very specifically wrote Show Boat to show the injustice of racism.
As a result of all of these factors, Show Boat was revised within a year of its Broadway bow before it moved to London’s West End. Its most controversial element was undoubtedly its first lyric, which included the n-word, and it went through several replacements beginning in 1928 when it premiered on the West End. A Broadway revival in 1946 featured a new overture, the removal of a few songs, and the addition of a new one—“Nobody Else But Me,” sung by Magnolia on her rise to fame. For many years, the 1946 version was considered the standard edition of Show Boat, but the show was revised for Broadway again by Harold Prince in 1994, crafting the score to work with seamless modern transitions, deleting further material, changing the context in which the popular song “Why Do I Love You” is sung, and even introducing material cut from the original production (the haunting “Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’”) and a song written for a 1936 film version (“I Have the Room Above Her”). Theatres producing Show Boat today have the option of using the 1946 or 1994 versions, in addition to a newer revision that was created for smaller theatres.
Revivals: 1987, 1998, 2014
Though the work is now widely associated with Bob Fosse thanks to his Oscar-winning 1972 film adaptation, Cabaret premiered on Broadway in 1966 in a production directed by Harold Prince and choreographed by Ron Field. The subject matter has always been controversial and World War II was fresh in most audiences’ memories.
Conversely to the trajectory of Show Boat, however, subsequent takes on Cabaret have actually worked to let it show a more frank depiction of Weimar Germany and the rise of Nazism. Fosse’s film was the first to move in a darker direction, drawing from Christopher Isherwood’s original novel, but deleted from the original stage version. Prince re-mounted his original production on Broadway in 1987, but he did implement some new songs and made the character of Cliff openly bisexual—as he was in the film adaptation.
The show’s most dramatic revision came with Sam Mendes’ 1993 London revival, which later played Broadway in 1998 and again in 2014. The songs “Maybe This Time” and “Mein Herr,” written for the film version, were included for the first time in a stage production and book revisions made the sexual fluidity of Cliff and the Emcee much more overt.
5. On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever
This musical by Alan Jay Lerner and Burton Lane opened on Broadway in 1965 and closed eight months later after 280 performances—no giant hit, but a respectable run for the time. The plot was always a bizarre one: Daisy Gamble (originally played by Barbara Harris) goes to a psychiatrist, still a relatively new trend in 1965, to get help with quitting smoking. The psychiatrist hypnotizes her, and Daisy begins describing a previous life in 18th-century England. Her psychiatrist starts to fall for the 18th-century English woman, and, believing that Daisy is her reincarnation, ultimately ends up with Daisy herself by the end.
But the score was as lovely as the plot was odd and confusing. Songs like “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!,” “She Wasn’t You,” “What Did I Have That I Don’t Have,” “Come Back to Me,” along with the ever-popular title song made the Broadway cast album a favorite amongst theatre fans. A movie adaptation was made in 1970 starring Barbra Streisand.
Years later, director Michael Greif began developing his own new take on the story of On a Clear Day, enlisting writer Peter Parnell to write a new book that made Daisy a male—David—and his alter-ego a female jazz singer in the 1940s. With the blessing of Alan Jay Lerner’s estate and Harry Connick, Jr. in the role of the psychiatrist, this radical new version of On a Clear Day opened in 2011. The revival was sadly short-lived, but it did introduce Broadway to then-Chicago talent now-Tony winner Jessie Mueller, who played Melinda (the jazz singer).
Logan Culwell-Block is a musical theatre historian, Playbill's manager of research, and curator of Playbill Vault. Please visit LoganCulwellBlock.com.
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